In thinking about King’s life and legacy, I’m compelled to consider the mechanics behind it all. Most importantly, I’m compelled to consider the importance of his words.
Few moments in history have had as significant an impact as the "I Have a Dream" speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King gave this historic speech in the summer of 1963 during the March on Washington, a rally for civil rights and against discrimination. About 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial to witness it, and more than 50 years later, his words are still stirring. Moreover, the speech--along with the entire March on Washington--led to important changes in policy, most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In thinking about King’s life and legacy, I’m compelled to consider the mechanics behind it all. Most importantly, I’m compelled to consider the importance of his words. King stirred up an already-brewing revolution towards justice with the power of his words, backed by the strength of his actions and the clarity of his goals. Words, we know, have the power of “life and death.” (Proverbs 18:21) The words that we use can heal the wounds of those who are hurt, they can impose a death sentence, and they can breathe life into discouraged hearts.
Within each of us, I think, is a precious spark of desire for the things that we value in life. In philosophy, sometimes this is called the telos, the natural “end” of an organism or its inherent life goal, its reason for being. I believe, moreover, that as a Christian, my end is love. It is the reason for everything I do and my goals are centered on it. I’m told that I must love my neighbor – this isn’t conditional, it’s an imperative. We must love our neighbors in the way that God loves us, which is unconditional and incomprehensible. In the face of hate, or against our human logic, we have to love. So, my goal is to love because I am commanded by God to do so. It’s not easy and I don’t always succeed. But, we’re not called to do what’s easy. Our calling is difficult and precious.
Reverend King preached the power of love over hate time and time again. He said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” and “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” This holiday, in the midst of a world that seems to become more consumed by hatred and war, poverty, illness, suffering and apathy every day, I would urge us to cling to Dr. King’s teaching. Now, more than ever before, it is so important that we put to practice the ideals for which Reverend King died – ideals of love, mercy, forgiveness. I hope this holiday that we remember both with our words and with our actions that love is “the greatest of these.” (Cor. 13:13)